Huemul

Ever seen a huemul?    A WHAT?    A Huemul (way MOOL),
Hippocamelus bisulcus
, that curious animal that looks like a cross between a horse and a deer on the left side of Chile’s national coat of arms.

The huemul and the condor have appeared on Chile's coat of arms since 1834

The huemul and the condor have appeared on Chile's coat of arms since 1834

Haven’t seen the “escudo nacional” either? Don’t worry, we’ll fix both those problems right here, right now!

Chances are you’ll never get a chance to see a living huemul in the wild. They’re pretty shy (and for darned good reason), and this is probably about as close as you’ll ever get, so take a close look. I spotted this one lurking around a dark corner of the Natural History Museum in Concepción.

The huemul, one of Chile's national animals, in now in danger of extinction

The huemul, one of Chile's national animals, in now in danger of extinction

These big-eared members of the deer family (Cervidae), also known as the South Andean deer,  grow to a shoulder height of 35–40 inches and once ruled the wilds of Patagonia until they had to compete with human settlers who arrived in the 19th century. Their numbers have dwindled drastically due to human activity and the destruction of their natural habitat by deforestation, agriculture, and road building, etc. In fact, they’ve been on the endangered species list since 1976.

The few that remain today are protected in Andean sectors of national parks such as  in Nevados de Chillán-Laguna de Laja in southeastern Chile from the 8th through the 12th Regions and in southwestern Argentina.

By the way, that little guy tagging along behind the huemul in the museum is a pudú (Pudu puda), the smallest deer on Earth—no more than 15–16 inches (40 cm) in height! I’ve actually even seen a couple—in captivity on family farms—but they seem to be more plentiful than the once-grand huemul.

6 responses to “Huemul

  1. I stood patiently by a chilco (fuschia) plant in Parque Nacional Quelat for a really long time (for me), hoping one would come by for a snack, but no such luck. I also was told that they’d spotted three or four in the summer of 2008 in the park surrounding Mt. Fitzroy (Argentina), but needless to day, didn’t get to see any there, either. It would be amazing to get so see one. I’ve never seen a pudú, either. Deer elude me. Now we know!

  2. Ahh! That may be because you’re a city girl! (ahem, woman)… we used to have deer in our backyard… of course, no huemuls to speak of though!

  3. My wife and I spent months hiking in northern Chile. We saw Huemul in the foothills east of Arica. They are actually not heumul but taruca a species rarer than the huemul. Their habitat has been destroyed to such an extent that it is unlikely that they will survive. Their demise began when the spanish destroyed most of the forest of tamarugal trees in northern Chile to fuel their smelters and this persecution has continued for centuries. The rare desert guanaco in the area of Chañaral are in an even worse predicament; there are fewer than 20 left. It’s possible that the huemul will only be seen on a coat of arms much in the same way that the California grizzly bear can be found only on the state flag. Thankfully there are success stories and many people working to save many species on the brink.
    John

  4. John- What luck to spot one of these rare creatures! Hopefully the growing ecological awareness movement will have more sway over the growing human expansion in order to protect the few that are left.

  5. Hi, it’s me again. I have just looked up your Huemul article, and now it is clear to me that you know the difference between a huemul and a pudú—better than I do. In fact, I did see once see a pudú at a friend’s house in Los Dominicos—they had brought (¿smuggled?) it from the South. He didn’t live long, though.

  6. Hi Raul. Yes, I should have actually re-read the piece before I made that mistake in https://cachandochile.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/punxsatawney-groundhogs-a-huemul-ish-suggestion-for-chile !
    I’ve seen pudúes in captivity too, both in Colchagua and in Maule. All doing quite well actually. They’re odd little creatures- like a cross between a pig and a deer!

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